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Pennies from Heaven


When I was a boy I always had money, lots of money, that is more money than a young boy ever needed at any one time. One fun source of my revenue was the Earlsferry and Elie beach. All summer long the beach is thronged with people, all playing and laying around on the sand. As they roll over while basking in the sun an amazing amount of coins fall out of their pockets. Coins, being relatively heavy things, immediately vanish into the sand.  There they lay hidden until the onset of autumn and winter when nature brings the coins into view by several different ways. Late in the year as high winds blow along the beach the sand is blown from one end of the beach to the other. As the sand  blows  all objects that are heavier than sand become exposed and lay on the surface to become treasures for the gleaners of the beach to find. A halfpenny here. A penny there. Next a silver three penny bit or a sixpence. Maybe a silver shilling or a florin or the prize of a large silver half crown. It takes a trained eye to spot them. Sometimes a gold/diamond ring. Sometimes I’d find a whole bunch of coins all laying at the same place. A good rain would also expose coins on the beach and when it did I sang my ditty, Every time it rains it rains, pennies and half crowns.  Later I'd be singing, I'm in the Money. By the end of a sweep along the beach from one end to the other I usually picked up enough coins that I needed a bag to carry them. Of course I wasn’t the only one to be beach combing for the hidden treasure. My pal Jems could always be depended on to make sure that I didn’t hog the show. When high winds had been blowing during the night I’d get up before daylight then with flashlight in hand I’d be on the beach doing my thing. Sometimes I'd find Jems' footsteps ahead of me in the dark. I learned all about early birds, ha, ha. Each day as the wind blows more treasures become uncovered and finders are keepers.


While beachcombing there always was the possibility of finding some valuable piece of flotsam that had washed ashore. Often the prize was too heavy to carry without help. This necessitated moving the object to above the high water mark. So placed, your treasure trove is protected by the unwritten law of the beachcomber. Any object that’s been placed above the extreme of the high water mark is the property of the person who placed it there and will remain so until it’s been retrieved by that person.


The ever increasing and high tides of winter are another of nature’s forces that expose what the shifting sand is hiding. As the sea drives on shore a ledge is formed along the beach as each receding waves sucks the sand outwards. By walking along the beach at this tide line drop off I’d always find coins just waiting for me. The most valuable find ever was a large and ancient solid gold coin that had a Greek emperor’s head on it. I reasoned that this coin had finally arrived on shore from the shipwrecked galleon that I've always thought lay not very far out from the shore.


At times of high winter tides the force of the sea created a bonanza place for finding coins. At the section of the beach between Telfers Wynd and the breakwater slipway the high tide seas of winter advance onshore to pound against the sea wall. In the course of doing this the force of the waves picks up small objects such as coins which after hitting the wall fall by their weight and became buried in a straight line all along the sea front wall. To harvest these coins I would push my hand down into the sand then work my way along the wall while I sifted the sand with my fingers.    


On days that I had been especially successful in catching lobsters at low tide there was always a ready and willing group of ladies in the village who wanted my excess and handsomely rewarded me for bringing the straight out of the sea live lobsters to them.


Another resource of nature that I turned into a number of pennies was the riot of wild flowers such as primroses, cowslips and bluebells that grew in profusion on the slopes of the cliffs beyond the Croupie rock at the end of West Bay. Another of my favourite places to gather wild flowers was the marshy area where the Balchrystie burn meets up with the Cockle Mill burn at Shell Bay where stunningly brilliant yellow marsh marigolds grew.  Today these wild flowers are endangered species but in my early years they weren’t. On Saturdays, in particular, I’d take a large pail with a little water in it to the cliffs and fill it with these wild flowers. Once back home I carefully tied my flowers into small bundles with string then I went around Earlsferry, knocking on doors. After ten o’ clock in the morning it was most always the lady of the house who answered the door. With a big smile I’d say, “Would you like to have some very pretty flowers today Mrs. Smith?”  Most always the response was, “Oh yes I’d love to have some.” At this the lady would disappear to get her purse and bring it to the door. I never put a price on my flowers or asked for money as I knew that by not doing so I’d be rewarded with far more money than if I put a price on my offerings. I had quite a string of faithful and generous lady customers. I think it was their way of rewarding initiative and enterprise as I'm sure their gardens were full of flowers.


When I was about twelve years old my elderly friend Monty let me add a small window to one of his beach huts that I had placed at the corner of Telfers Wynd. I reasoned that items that are available at the point of need and use are worth more than those that are in some faraway shop so I went to the Woolworth shop in the town of Leven and bought  beach balls, spades, tin pails for making sand castles, butterfly nets for catching little fish in tide pools, fancy kites and whatever I could get that is associated with children who play on the beach. What I could buy was what I could hand carry home on the Leven bus. My summer off- school days went by in a flash.


Another good source of pennies was finding and selling golf balls that had been lost and  give-away wooden peg tees. On days that I looked for lost balls I had three places where in a very small amount of time I could collect a dozen or more balls. Most balls that were lost were the result of forcing a drive from the tee that made the ball hook far away to the left of the fairway. These were at the 6th where balls would fly across the West Sea road and end up in " Lilburn's field ": the 12th where long hitters would try to cut the dogleg and end up in the thick rough or down on the beach and maybe the best place was at the 14th where hookers balls would sail over farmer Black's cow park fence to end high up in the deep rough of his hillside field. My dad let me have a place in his golf shop where I kept a bowlful of my "best" found balls. Beside the balls I placed a small sign that said, " Found Balls, Help Yourself. Leave in the bowl, whatever." Always in the bowl was more money than new balls would have cost. I tested all of my found balls for "bounce" and/or other damage and the ones that didn't make the grade by bouncing high enough, I placed in a separate bowl and labeled them "Free,Tottie Baws, take them down to the beach and drive them as far out to sea as you can."  These balls always disappeared pretty fast and I know that some ended up by  the takers placing them into the pockets of their friends golf bags !!!! I also had a bowl for loose wooden peg tees with a label that said  "Free"  but the same thing happened. I always found that those who play golf are a fun loving, jovial and a generous lot.


Other summer job that  I did when still a boy were delivering groceries for either Mrs. Phillips, Mrs. Methven, Mr. Cummings or Mr. Low's grocery shop. Another was taking care of several gardens and of course every Earlsferry boy was a golf caddy at some time or other.


August and September were the months for farmers to harvest their crops and it was always great fun to help. Before the days of tractors and combines the grain fields were cut by horse drawn reapers that tied the grain into sheaves.  This is where children came in.  It became our job to pick up all of the sheaves and stand them vertically into stooks for the grain to dry for a week or so before being taken to the farmyard to be made into stacks. Later a steam engine threshing machine visited the farm to thresh the sheaves into sacks of grain.  When the fields are first cut the cutting starts from the outside and works inwards until the last row is cut. Always in the fields were a great number of well fed rabbits and these kept moving inwards until there were only about one of two rows left to be cut. When these last rows were cut the rabbits left their cover and bolted to safety. We boys would run after them just for the fun of the chase but we always took several home----- to be made into rabbit stew, bunny baffies and furry mittens. I do believe I could have made a viable business out of tanning, cutting and the sewing of fashionable baffies and mittens.


Tottie time in September was another time of year that Earlsferry children eagerly looked forward to. Farmers made a deal with the schools to let any child be excused for the two or three weeks that it usually took to harvest their fields of potatoes. At Andrew Allen's St. Ford farm a horse drawn machine with a rotating spoked wheel spun the potatoes out of the ground. At Broomlees farm, next door, Mr. Burns the farmer had just gone modern by acquiring a brand new bright blue Fordson tractor to haul the digging machine.  It then became our job to gather all the potatoes into baskets which were then loaded onto carts that took them to where they were stored until they were sold.  At the end of our time, in addition to our pay, we were given a large sack of potatoes which were usually Golden Wonders or Kerr's Pinks.  With all the money that we made our parents usually took us to the town of Leven where at the Co-op or Comrie the draper's shop we used some of our money to pay for new shoes and a suit of clothes for the coming winter. With the rest of my tottie money I couldn't go home until I'd spent some of it at Becker's shop which was alongside of the main Leven bus stop. Becker's was a wonderful shop that sold bikes, toys, games, puzzles, carbide bicycle lamps, gyro tops, dynamos, a kit to make an electric motor out of nails and wire, meccano erector sets, microscopes, chemistry sets, working model steam engines, model railway trains and track, repelling magnets, roller skates, ice skates, fretwork tools and materials  and just all sorts of great stuff for young people.


One year, just before Christmas, the bedroom where I slept had just been re carpeted. That year Santa Claus brought me a chemistry set that no doubt came from Becker's. Right away I started to mix a beaker of chemicals that before I knew it fizzed and boiled over and ruined the new carpet. I went to confess my booboo and expected to at best get a good talking to for my carelessness but my at all times gentle mother, bless her heart, just smiled, looked me in the eye and calmly said, " In this life there are majors and minors and that's a minor." Wow. What an unforgettable lesson.


As a young teenager, before going to school in the mornings, I worked for Ramsey's, the local dairy, which was essentially a husband and wife operation. This job meant me being at the dairy at four o’clock in the dark of the morning to begin the work. First thing my employer, Mr. Ramsey, did was to teach me how to drive the milk delivery van. I’d be about twelve or thirteen at this time.  Each morning we went to Balmakin Farm about four miles away, (a mile up the road from Robin Gray’s cottage), to collect the milk which was in five gallon milk cans and still very warm from the early morning milking of the cows. I remember one morning in particular that we got stuck for a short time in the deep snow just as we got to the farm. The beams of the headlights and the clearing of the windshield by the wipers showed the snow as it fell to almost obscure our vision. After arriving back at the dairy we emptied the milk into a cooling machine then bottled the milk into pint and quart bottles. Some of the milk we let settle then skimmed off the cream to make skim milk and thick cream. Next we loaded all the bottles into the van then went around the  village where we deposited them on to the doorsteps of our customers according to their orders. By seven thirty I was back home which gave me just enough time to wash, change into my school clothes, have something to eat then run the mile plus distance to catch the school train which arrived at the Elie Station at eight.


I had a small forge that I made from items that I found at the coup and I had great fun making useful and decorative wrought iron objects like candlesticks, wrought iron standard and table lamps and fancy gate latches that I gave away at Christmas time. I taught myself how to make table lamps from old Chianti bottles and pottery vases. To drill the hole in the glass bottle for the electric chord to go through I made a drill from an old worn out triangular shaped file which did the job of drilling holes in glass or ceramic objects exceedingly well. When you know how it's easy to drill holes in glass without breaking it. For the lamps that I made I created theme and distinctive lamp shades.


Looking back, what great fun these early years were. In addition to being fun I also learned a lot about buying and selling and human nature.